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Grace Hopper and Colleagues Introduce COBOL (May 28, 1959 – December 7, 1960)


On May 28 and 29, 1959 a group representing computer users, programmers, manufacturers, universities, and the government met at The Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia, to plan COBOL (COmmon Business Oriented Language), a non proprietary computer language designed for business use that could be run on all electronic computers. Its specifications were inspired by the FLOW-MATIC language invented by Grace Hopper, and the IBM COMTRAN language.

The first report on Cobol, Initial Specifications for a COmmon Business-Oriented Language for Programming Electronic Digital Computers was issued by the Defense Department and published in Washington, D.C. in April 1960.  

On December 6 and 7, 1960  essentially the same program written in COBOL was run on two different makes of computers— an RCA computer and a Remington-Rand Univac computer— demonstrating for the first time that compatibility between computers produced by different manufacturers could be achieved.

In 1961 a revised version of the initial COBOL report, titled COBOL-61: Revised Specifications for a Common Business-Oriented Language, was issued by the COBOL committee. Even after this revision, COBOL still lacked certain major components necessary for business data-processing programming; these were provided in the revised edition "which contained major (Report Writer facilities and SORT verb), and a few minor additions to COBOL-61" (Sammet, History of Programming Languages [1969] 333). This was followed by COBOL-61 Extended. Report ... Including Specifications for a Common Business Oriented Language (COBOL) [Washington, D.C.:] U. S. Department of Defense, 1962. 

Pertinent to the durability of COBOL in 2014 Vikram Chandra wrote:

"COBOL, a language first introduced in 1959 by Grace Hopper (‘Grandma COBOL’), still processes 90 per cent of the planet’s financial transactions, and 75 per cent of all business data. You can make a comfortable living maintaining code in languages like COBOL, the computing equivalents of Mesopotamian cuneiform dialects" (Chandra, "Most Code is an Ugly Mess. Here's How to Make it Beautiful," Wired, 9.02.14).

Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace (2002) nos. 543, 544.

(This entry was last revised on 12-26-2014.)

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